Sunday, October 18, 2015

Exit Music (For A Player): Chris Carter

Hey, the wounds are still fresh, so it seems like a fine time to do some evaluating. This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here


Acquired via trade from Oakland on February 4, 2013 with Brad Peacock and Max Stassi for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez.

Age: Carter will be 29 in December

Contract Status: 

2015: $4,180,000 (arbitration)
2016: Arbitration-eligible

Carter won't be a free agent until 2019.


I did not realize that Chris Carter had been involved in so many transactions. He was a 15th Round draft pick by the White Sox in 2005, then traded to Arizona for Carlos Quentin on December 3, 2007. Eleven days later he was traded with Brett Anderson and four other players to the A's for Dan Haren and Connor Robertson. On February 4, 2013 Carter was traded to the Astros with Brad Peacock and Max Stassi for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez.

All along, everyone knew what Chris Carter was about: Lots of power, lots of strikeouts. Whomever could figure out a way to stop the latter while keeping the former would be in for a treat. Prior to the 2010 season, Carter was Baseball America's #28 prospect, and BP's #11 prospect. Finding a mix between the power and the strikeouts hasn't exactly happened yet - he has both in bunches.

In the minors, Carter racked up 826 games/3647 plate appearances, hitting .283/.378/.535 with 857K:442BB - a strikeout in every 23.5% of his plate appearances, but 46.2% of his hits were for extra bases.

In 528 Major League games (2001 plate appearances), Carter has hit .217/.312/.452 with 669K:231BB - a strikeout in every 33.4% of his plate appearances, but almost half of his hits (49.6%) are for extra bases. It's a conundrum.

When he came to Houston, Carter had logged just 384 plate appearances in 106 games for Oakland across three seasons, hitting .214/.310/.425 with 124 strikeouts and 19 home runs. So far in Houston, Carter has managed to hit .218/.312/.459, but it has been a hard-fought road for him.

In 2013, Carter struck out a league-leading 212 times in just 585 plate appearances. He cut those strikeouts by 30 going into 2014, but it took him a while to get started. In the 1st half of 2014, Carter hit .205/.281/.465 with 99 strikeouts and 19 home runs on a .237 BABIP (but let's be honest, he wasn't putting the ball in play all that much with almost 100 strikeouts by the All-Star Break). Then something clicked. Carter hit .252/.338/.521 with 83 strikeouts and 18 home runs in 63 starts after the 2014 All-Star Break.

Maybe, we thought, if 2nd-Half Carter could show up for the entire season in 2015, the Astros would really have something.


That Carter did show up, but not until September. Carter didn't get above the Mendoza Line until June 3, when he blasted two homers in a 3-1 win against Baltimore. He was back underneath .200 on June 7, flirted with it for a while before bottoming out at .179/.292/.368 following the August 26 win at New York. Hinch just stopped putting him in the lineup. He played in just eight complete games in August, getting subbed out or put in as a pinch-hitter. Carter had an 82 wRC+ (100 is average).

Then Magic happened. Carter's ABs in September became Stop What You're Doing And Pay Attention events. In his last 20 games of the regular season - starting with the game following that August 26 game - Carter hit .333/.414/.824 with seven home runs and four doubles in 59 plate appearances. He struck out 16 times, but whatever - he almost virtually carried the Astros' offense into the postseason. Six of his homers came in the final two weeks of the season, all of them came within a 2-run margin, two of them put the Astros ahead, and one of them - his final homer of the regular season - was a three-run blast at Seattle on September 30 to tie the game in the 6th, a game the Astros would later win.

What happened? He had trouble hitting basically every pitch up until the end of August. He hit .142 against four-seam fastballs, .154 against sinkers,  .194 against sliders, .194 against curves. The only pitch he didn't have "much" trouble with was a changeup, where he hit .242 - and he didn't see many of those pitches as a result.

Then, beginning with that August 28 game, it clicked. He hit .294 against four-seam fastballs, .500 against sinkers, .600 against the curve, two of his seven homers to close the season came on sliders - he had hit three homers on sliders all season long to that point. His wRC+ from August 27-end of season was 233. It's only a five-week stretch for Carter, but it's worth pointing out that Barry Bonds' wRC+ in 2001 - when he hit 73 home runs - was 235. That five week stretch of Carter was like watching Bonds put up one of the most historic seasons in baseball history.*

(*Caveat: I'm not dumb enough to compare Carter to Barry Bonds. I'm trying to say that for five weeks, Carter played at a very high level. It does not erase the previous 22 weeks of the season, it's just an observation.)

Carter is the type of player that makes me happy I'm not a general manager. I flip-flop on what to do with Carter by the hour. The Astros rode Carter through July hoping that he would show up, and there was absolutely no guarantee that he would. This makes it that much more difficult to guess what place he has on the 2016 team. Do you write off September as a fluke? Too little too late? Or do you run the risk of just letting him go - with three years of team control left - and hoping that he doesn't put it together for, say, Seattle, and hit 100 homers a year?

Franchise Marks:

*In 2014, Carter became the 6th Astro to hit 37+ homers in a season (Bagwell - six times; Berkman - twice; Richard Hidalgo, Moises Alou, and Jimmy Wynn are your others).
*Chris Carter holds 1st and 2nd place in franchise K% rate with 36.2% and 31.8% in 2013 and 2014, respectively.


This is the question mark. Down on the farm you already have Jon Singleton and A.J. Reed who have shown an ability to hit in the minors.

Jon Singleton signed maybe the most famous contract in franchise history, a 5yr/$10m deal before he had even seen a Major-League pitch. It hasn't quite worked out for him. In 2014, he hit .168/.285/.335, striking out in 37% of his plate appearances in 95 games. He only saw 19 games in Houston, and he hit .191/.328/.298. All in all, Singleton has only played in 114 games with 420 plate appearances, so it's far too early to write him off, but already Jon Heyman is talking about him possibly needing a change of scenery. As The Batguy told me recently, he wants to see what Singleton can do when he's not expected to carry the offense.

A.J. Reed. This dude, man... The Astros' 2nd Round draft pick in the 2014 draft, you know, the one after Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix, Reed came in to the organization from the University of Kentucky as a highly touted hitter and pitcher - winning Baseball America's College Player of the Year for 2014. In 2015 Reed hit .346/.449/.638 for Lancaster before the Astros decided enough was enough and moved him to Corpus after 82 games. In 53 games for the Hooks, Reed hit .332/.405/.571. His BABIP was .385 for the JetHawks and .383 for the Hooks. It's fun to dream about a kid like Reed: he'll be 23 in May, a lefty hitter, and plays 1B/DH. But he still only has 237 PAs above Single-A. So let's slow down on Reed a little bit. He could make the team out of Spring Training, but with Carter, Singleton, and Gattis theoretically on the roster, one or two of those dudes will need to go before we see Reed. And I know what you're thinking: Lance McCullers, Vince Velasquez, and Jose Altuve didn't need time at Triple-A (! you scream). And I don't know, sure, you're right. Feel good about yourself now?


Oh no, not more words about Chris Carter (August 2015)
Let the piling on commence (February 2013)